We’ve always been a nation of moaners – nothing wrong with that – it’s good to ring up a friend and have a good moan, but whining is something else. Moaning is cathartic, whining isn’t. It doesn’t even sound nice. People in romantic novels sometimes moan with pleasure (at least they did a hundred years ago when I still read them and didn’t flick through the pages of passion until they settled down to a vivid description of a greedy lunch), but nobody whines with pleasure (unless they do so in S & M literature – not a genre I’m familiar with.)
If I ring a friend and ask if she’s got five minutes because I want a moan it is usually something trivial like some old bat driving along in the middle of the road at 20 mph – not very serious but irritating. But a whiner is different, it would turn the minor annoyance of the slow driver into a diatribe about how it had ruined her day and I’m writing usually ‘she’ here because most of the people I moan to (and let’s face it occasionally whine – nobody’s perfect) are women. We all know people who, when you ask them how they are, will say ‘I’ve broken my leg which is a real bore, but I’m really getting the hang of my crutches and I’m getting all of my shopping on line.’ As compared to those who say ‘I’ve got the most terrible cold – the heating in the cinema wasn’t working and I can’t stay in bed because I’ve got a delivery arriving, I’ll have to drag myself out of bed…..’ Whiners are very draining but you can often end a good moan by laughing at yourself. A sense of perspective helps – you wouldn’t moan about an aching hip to someone who had just had a leg amputated, but that wouldn’t deflect the professional whiner. We all know those Debbie Downers – those people who can always find something to complain about and can scarcely be bothered to ask you how things are going in your life.
Complaining is something else again and can be quite an art form. Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne must be doing really well in these litigious days where there is no such thing as an accident and something is always some else’s fault. I write quite a lot of brilliant letters of complaint, in my mind in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) those flowery, literary phrases that seemed like pure inspiration at 3.30 in the morning turn out to be banal, trite and cliché ridden in the cold light of day. Of course, the French have the best phrase – L’esprit de l’escalier. It is so annoying as you drive away from a situation where someone has stolen your parking space, and the perfect riposte comes into your mind, but you can’t turn round and go back to announce ‘the smaller the dick, the bigger the car’ – or something equally pithy!!! However, I do sometimes manage a good verbal complaint when in the heat of the moment. My husband used to cringe with embarrassment as I let someone have it with both barrels! I remember once when we had waited over an hour for our first course in a restaurant and a girl at the next table who was supposed to be having a birthday lunch with her parents was in tears because she had to go back to work without having eaten anything. I finally managed to get hold of the manager who came up with the most ridiculous excuse saying they were very busy and I pointed out that if a restaurant wasn’t busy at lunchtime it wasn’t going to last very long. I managed to get the birthday girl and her family a free lunch before we walked out and went somewhere else as I pointed out to the manager that would free up a table and they would be less busy!
We are so spoilt nowadays when we don’t have very much to complain about. Heating bills are going up but most of us can turn down the thermostat and put on another jumper. Shops sometimes run out of items we want but in this we never see rows or empty shelves. We might have to wait for our new hip but at least we can probably get one eventually unlike our grandparents. It’s great to have a good moan but there’s no need to whine and I’m not complaining!
What a wonderful analysis! I can now identify situations in the hierarchy of complaining, moaning and whining, and try to respond appropriately. Firing off in French is an excellent strategy, particularly if the cause of the annoyance doesn’t understand the language, so can’t sue you, but gets the message anyway. Though it might be advisable to learn some good ripostes in more obscure languages eg Armenian or Cornish. Thank you, Stella, for providing information which makes it unnecessary to read any S M works!
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